100 Greatest Artists

12

The Beach Boys

Illustration by Chris Kasch

By Lindsey Buckingham

The Beach Boys showed the way, and not just to California. Sure, they may have sold the California Dream to a lot of people, but for me, it was Brian Wilson showing how far you might have to go in order to make your own musical dream come true.

In the beginning, I was someone who grew up in California and loved the early music that he and the Beach Boys made. Later, I would relate to Brian's struggle as an artist against a machine that tended toward serving the bottom line — the industry attitude that if it works, run it into the ground. Music meant much more to him than that. He was trying to do something so much bigger than that with his teenage symphonies to God. In the process, he really rocked the boat and changed the world.

When the Beach Boys started, Brian was taking European sensibilities and infusing them into a Chuck Berry format. Those harmonies were based on the Four Freshmen, with a little church element added to it. He put all that on top of Chuck Berry rock & roll, and the result sounded so fresh. I remember hearing "Surfin' Safari" first when I was in sixth grade. It had the beat, the sense of joy, that explosion rock & roll gave to a lot of us. But it also had this incredible lift, this amazing kind of chemical reaction that seemed to happen inside you when you heard it.

Pet Sounds is the acknowledged masterpiece, and it's everything it's said to be, with Brian taking some of the influences he got from Phil Spector and making something all his own. But even before that there's Side Two of The Beach Boys Today!, which is really just one ballad after another and is for me one of the great sides on a rock album. Those are beautiful numbers — "Please Let Me Wonder," "Kiss Me Baby," "She Knows Me Too Well," "In the Back of My Mind" — that foreshadow Brian's angst and start exposing his vulnerability. A lot of what you find later on Pet Sounds or Smile, you could find in a different form early on.

Today it's nice to see that Brian's in a place where he can do what he wants without the pressure of selling or of having to be the support system for so many others. Because he gave the rest of us more than his fair share of good vibrations.

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